Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Paris Balancing Act: The Fastest-And Gayest-Way to Experience the City Is at Night on Rollerblades

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Paris Balancing Act: The Fastest-And Gayest-Way to Experience the City Is at Night on Rollerblades

Article excerpt

So what if it was my first time in Paris and my knowledge of French is about as substantial as a croissant? And should it matter that my previous Rollerblading experience comprised two tottery hours on rental skates? I'd heard that Friday Night Fever, a weekly Rollerblading whirl through Paris that regularly draws 10,000 bladers, attracts a significant gay contingent and often becomes an aerobic flirtfest. On this sultry June night before Paris's gay pride celebration, my main concern was determining whom to cruise, given that to my untrained American eye "gay" and "French" are virtually indistinguishable.

The men in the crowd in front of the Montparnasse Tower were slim, tanned, and sapphire-eyed. Despite the late-June heat--and the prospect of three hours of strenuous exercise-almost nobody had committed the sartorial faux pas of wearing short pants (except for me). Still trying to get my sexual bearings, I scanned the gorgeous legions but was distracted by all the teenage boys who looked too young yet to have fully reckoned with an orientation.

At the stroke of 10, the skaters flash-flooded onto Rue de Depart, and I was swept into the torrent--downhill. I braked and was bumped from behind. I released and hurtled forward. I wind-milled my arms. I dodged a curb. I'd have cried for help, but I lost all sense of language.

"Allez! Allez!" came a taunt from behind.

"A la droit," yelled a whizzing blur to my left.

Skate officials in yellow shirts herded the pack. And somehow I was rolling and yawing and not quite falling, and my vision was reduced to a hazy frazzle. My calves were on fire, my clothes drenched with sweat. If I'd tried to stop, I would have been steamrolled.

After half an hour of scrabbling survival, I caught a break when the throng paused to let stragglers catch up. My vision cleared just enough to see a squad of policemen, themselves on Rollerblades, slaloming authoritatively on the mob's edge. In both directions stretched an undulating swarm.

The race resumed, taking us through cobblestoned plazas that nearly knocked my teeth out and along streets crisscrossed by utility cables that I negotiated like trip wires. I still couldn't gather my wits enough to look at the scenery, but I finally managed glimpses at my fellow bladers. A good number were pumping as hard as I, but others were laughing, playing high-speed games of tag. I saw one guy guzzling a bottle of beer, another puffing happily on a joint. A dozen skaters passed me gabbing on their cell phones.

It dawned on me that this massive chase on skates was akin to driving the Los Angeles freeways, where the bumper-to-bumper traffic moves at 70 miles per hour; riding your brakes is more dangerous than keeping pace. I quit worrying about how to stop short if I had to, quit worrying about what people might think if I toppled, and gave myself over to trust. We turned a corner then, and I saw for the first time outside of a movie the shocking solendor of the Eiffel Tower: magnesium bright, fizzing like a giant Fourth of July sparkler.

Having hurtled full-speed for an hour and a half--and for nearly 10 miles--we'd finally earned a midpoint pause. The horde overtook the vast slope in front of the Chaillot Palace, with its commanding view of the Seine and the tower beyond. Hotdoggers flaunted skating tricks while the rest of us gladly rested. Water bottles were shared with quiet fratemite.

Though I looked closely, I couldn't discern any overt sexual current among the crowd. …

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